Saturday, 28 February 2015

Vatican At War As Pell Lives it Up in Rome

Cardinal George Pell arrives for a morning session at the Vatican.
Photo: Alessandra Tarantino
Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican's financial watchdog, slammed for lavish spending

In a leaked document, Cardinal Pell, the former Archbishop of Melbourne who was put into the Vatican by Pope Francis to sort out its finances and root out the endemic corruption, has been accused of living a lavish lifestyle and handing out money to a chum in the form of an inflated salary.

But the real story here is the leak itself and what it shows is going on behind the scenes, as the Pope accuses the Curia of of suffering from fifteen 'spiritual diseases' including 'spiritual Alzheimers' and 'theological schizophrenia and Pell himself reveals that heads of departments in the vast Vatican bureaucracy had been salting away tens of millions in secret bank accounts, made possible because of shoddy bookkeeping and an almost complete lack of financial accountability with no records of where the money came from nor what it's to be spent on. The discovery of these large secret bank accounts potentially transformed the Vatican's financial position from precarious to very healthy.

Pell was put in soon after Pope Francis replaced the odious Pope Benedict who had done nothing to put a stop to the corruption revealed by his 'butler' in the 'Vatileaks' affair. Documents given to the press showed that the Vatican Bank was the centre of a major criminal money-laundering operations involving trillions of Euros being smuggled across national borders, often under Vatican diplomatic protection. Pope Benedicts response had been to 'forgive' his 'butler' for this breach of trust, after confining him to a Vatican prison cell for a few months, it being considered a sin to tell the truth in Benedict's Catholic Church, apparently. Telling the truth was a vastly more serious 'sin' than the unimportant little matter of laundering money for organized crime, false accounting and embezzling vast sums of Church money.

It was soon after this that Pope Benedict suddenly realised he needed to retire early and spend his life in prayer and contemplation, struggling with hard questions of faith, safe and sound in a Vatican backroom - and conveniently immune from answering questions about his role in the child abuse scandals still rocking the Catholic Church.

When money becomes an idol, it commands the choices of man. And thus it ruins man and condemns him. It makes him a slave.

Pope Francis
speech to the Association of Italian Cooperative Movements
This leak, published in the Italian magazine L'Espresso last Friday is clearly intended to embarrass both Pell and Pope Francis. It reveals that Cardinal Pell spent €2508 ($3600) on religious robes at a tailor and about $6650 on kitchen-sink fittings. While Pope Francis adopts a 'humble' lifestyle in modest accommodation within the Vatican and travels on public transport, Pell flies around the world in business class, has employed an 'assistant' from Australia on a salary of $21,600-a-month, spends more than $5100 a month to rent an office and apartment at an upmarket address in Rome and spent nearly $87,000 on furniture for it.

The leaked document also claimed that the Pope has challenged Pell on his spending. The only comment so far has been by Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, who while implicitly admitting that there is conflict within the Vatican, declared the leak 'illegal', stating that, "passing confidential documents to the press for polemical ends or to foster conflict is not new, but is always to be strongly condemned". Again, telling the truth is a much more serious 'sin' than helping yourself to Church money to support a lavish and self-aggrandizing lifestyle.

The problem Pope Francis (and Pope Benedict before him) has is that the Curia had got used to being the de facto power in the Vatican, with no accountability to anyone but themselves, through the long senescence of Pope John Paul II, the 'Polish Pope' who, as the first non-Italian Pope for centuries, needed his Italian Curia to operate in the rarified Italian political scene. The fact that the Vatican operated perfectly well with a moribund Pope showed his irrelevance to the day-to-day running of the Church. The ease with which they removed the deeply unpopular and embarrassing Pope Benedict merely served to confirm their powers which will not be relinquished lightly.

Time will tell whether Pell and Pope Francis heed this warning shot across their bows and call off the dogs, or whether Pope Francis suddenly realises he too needs to retire to a life of solitude and prayer and Pell realises it's time to retire gracefully to a secluded hideaway in Melbourne, with a hefty pension from a grateful Vatican. Pope Francis must be becoming acutely aware that even "God's Vicar On Earth" has no power unless he has the support of the Curia, the support of those who hold the purse-strings and the support of his clerics.

The Vatican cesspit might stink but the lack of one would be even worse for Pope Frankie.

Meanwhile, the haemorrhage of members continues as the Catholic Church becomes daily less relevent and more distrusted, and spirals downward in the developed world.

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1 comment :

  1. And to think that the Catholic Church still believes that it has any moral authority ...


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